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Property Owners Benefiting from Squatting Ban

Monday, 29 July 2013

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 created a new offence of squatting in a residential property under Section 144, with punishments of up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to £5,000. It came into force on 1 September 2012, and is “to protect owners and lawful occupiers of any type of residential building” as well as landlords, second homeowners and local authorities.

Prior to the ban, if a property owner could not persuade squatters to leave they faced lengthy and expensive legal proceedings in order to repossess their property. Now the victims of squatting can phone the police and have squatters arrested immediately.

Why Was the Squatting Ban Implemented?

Housing Minister Grant Shapps said that for “too long, hardworking people have faced long legal battles to get their homes back from squatters, and repair bills reaching into the thousands when they finally leave. No longer will there be so-called ‘squatters’ rights’. Instead we’re tipping the scales of justice back in favour of the homeowner and making the law crystal clear. Entering a property with the intention of squatting will be a criminal offence.”

Squatting advisory groups are not happy with the changes and accuse the government of not dealing with the underlying problem of a lack of affordable housing. However, such groups are advising people against squatting in residential buildings although they are also looking for opportunities to challenge the law in court.

How Effective Has the Squatting Ban Been?

There are differing reports as to the law’s effectiveness; an early report said that in the six months from September 2012 there had been three people jailed and 33 arrested for squatting, and highlighted calls from campaigners for the new law to be scrapped because it “criminalises action taken by the most needy.”

However, more recent reports list 40 court cases against squatters in four months. Of 38 cases up to December 2012, 11 were fined, one jailed, eight had conditional discharges, and four had community sentences. Furthermore, up to May 2013 police intervened successfully in nearly 100 cases in London to help owners get their property back from squatters.

Help for Property Owners

The new legislation is working; owners of residential property faced with squatters now have an immediate remedy – call the police – and no need to go through a long and costly battle in the courts to evict them.

It is something of a side issue that few of the squatters who have been arrested have received jail sentences, with the majority receiving relatively light punishments. This rather undermines the arguments of the advisory groups and campaigners that squatters are being criminalised and points to a ‘common sense’ approach by the police.

However, there are still ‘grey areas’ not covered adequately by the legislation, commercial property being the major one where recourse to criminal law, which still applies to cases of squatting, is very complex and difficult to prove. Essentially, any property owner faced with squatters should still seek legal advice even while calling the police in the first instance. Contact Peter Gourri today by email PGourri@rollingsons.co.uk or telephone 0207 611 4848.

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